Within the next decade the majority of American farmers will be retirees. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, over 31 percent of Georgia’s 47,000 farmers are 65 or above., and as the average age of the country’s agricultural operators continues to move toward 60, farming faces a looming crisis: Who will feed current and future generations?
There’s a glaring need to increase the number of young farmers in Georgia, but acquiring land, capital, and business acumen can be significant obstacles for anyone entering the profession.
To address this critical issue, and to grow the state’s next generation of growers farming organically (which is the fun part), Georgia Organics has re-tooled our Farmer to Farmer mentoring program, which is now The Grow Team! (That’s the name of the 2013 class anyway. If future classes want to change their name, they can.)
We’re proud to say this is the largest and most diverse pool of mentees in the program’s history.
Phoenix Garden’s Brennan Washington is our Mega-Mentor, personally teaming up with the mentees and mentors to make sure they are getting exactly what they need to grow their operations and become thriving farmers using organic techniques.
If you wanted to sum up the program’s overhaul, it is more focused, more hands-on, and more personal. By strengthening small farmers and local markets, the Grow Team! is a direct investment in the state’s rural communities and the future of agriculture in Georgia.
Over the next few months, we’ll introduce you to mentees in the Grow Team! Below are the highlights of the revised program, which is one of Georgia Organics’ most well-regarded.
- Individual technical and moral support from seasoned farmers in their communities. To date, almost 250 hours of mentoring support have been allocated.
- First-hand instruction on successful production practices through farm field days and tours.
- Formal guidance on farm and business planning.
- Travel support and sponsorship for continuing education, conferences, and networking.
- Financial reimbursement for necessary on-farm mechanical and professional services, such as tillage.
- Scholarships to the Georgia Organics Annual Conference.
- Marketing assistance from the Georgia Organics Farmer Services Coordinator.
- Auditing and marketing certification of sustainable growing practices.
Grow Team! 2013 Member Highlights
- 29 young and beginning farmers.
- Geographic diversity representing all regions in the state, from Thomasville to West Point to Dawsonville.
- Cultural diversity: 4 Hispanic farmers, 11 African-American farmers, 1 Korean-American farmer.
- Prospective vegetable, mushroom, and livestock and poultry operations.
- Veteran outreach.